Which is London’s deepest tube station?

This is not a spoiler. Clapham Common is not that deep. You will have to read this to find out. Image: Diliff

Not all tube stations are born equal. 

Some, like Mill Hill East, are reached by soaring viaducts, carrying the tracks a reasonable 60ft above ground level: Dollis Brook Viaduct, which leads to the station, is the highest point on the London Underground. Others, like Westminster, harbour vast cavernous halls with escalators plunging ever further into the depths of London.

Given that it’s called the London Underground, the startling thing is that it’s not actually underground all that much. Only 40 per cent of is actually below ground, and only two lines – the Victoria and Waterloo & City – are entirely below ground.

Others, such as the Metropolitan and the District, only spend a relatively short proportion of their lifespan underground, with vast expanses stretching out into the west, north-west, and east of suburbia.

So, it begs the question. On the world’s oldest underground railway system, which station is the most… underground?

As ever on CityMetric, this very quickly denigrates into an argument about the terms of the question – so it makes sense to run through all the different possible answers.

Firstly, the answer nobody sensible would think to want: how far above sea level the entrance to the station is.

West Ham, which is not near Hampstead. Image: Richard Rogerson. 

By that measure, West Ham is the ‘deepest’, with the station entrance sitting just one metre above sea level (come friendly global warming, and raise sea levels on West Ham). This is something of a theme on the Jubilee Line Extension, as Bermondsey, North Greenwich and Canning Town all follow behind at two metres above level: no surprise, perhaps, given that trains struggle with steep gradients.

But onto more important things. If you take the average depth below sea level of all the platforms in each tube station – an important clarification – London Bridge comes out on top (bottom). Its platforms are, on average, 22 metres below sea level.

Highly candid shot of London Bridge's platforms. Image: Zverzia. 

On average, Southwark follows at 21 metres, Elephant & Castle at 18 metres, followed by Pimlico at 16 metres below sea level on average.

But seeing as some stations have very shallow platforms on lines like the District and Circle, alongside very deep platforms on lines like the Central – think of the annoyance of changing at Notting Hill Gate or King’s Cross St Pancras – the average depth in one station probably isn’t all that useful.

Which brings us to the deepest single platform.

The eastbound and westbound platforms of the Jubilee line at London Bridge make a good showing, with both coming in at 23.2m below sea level.

Southwark, just next door, makes an effort, but can’t really compete at 20.5m below sea level on its two Jubilee line platforms.

The majesty of Westminster. Image: Voyager.

Common knowledge, and Google search, has it that Westminster has the tube’s deepest platform – but according to TfL’s own figures that’s not the case.

While the westbound Jubilee Line platform at Westminster is very deep – at 25.4m below sea level – it’s beaten to the top (bottom) spot by Waterloo next door.


Both the eastbound at westbound Jubilee platforms at Waterloo are 26m below sea level – again, disclaimer, as per TfL’s own official figures – making them the deepest tube platforms on the network. If you want to nerd out at the whole data set, you can access it here.

But again, with conjecture being the order of the day – who really cares how far below the sea the tube is?

We’re Londoners, not softies of the South Coast. We don’t care about the sea. We haven’t seen the sea for years.

What we really want to know is how far below ground level the tube is – a question that renders a completely different result.

A historic shot of the deepest tube station. Image: Ben Brooksbank 

And with no ado about something, the answer there is Hampstead.

Because the northern line station there sits on the picturesque but thigh-aching Hampstead Hill, the tube platforms may not be that far below sea level but they are an awful long way below the ground.

The southbound platform is about 0.8m deeper than the northbound platform, according to TfL figures, but they’re both about 58.5m below ground level.

So there you have it. The more you know.

Jack May is a regular contributor to CityMetric and tweets as @JackO_May.

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Academics are mapping the legacy of slavery in Britain’s cities

A detail of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership map showing central Bristol. Image: LBS/UCL.

For 125 years, a statue of the 17th century slave-trader Edward Colston stood in the centre of Bristol, ostensibly to commemorate the philanthropy he’d used his blood money to fund. Then, on 7 June, Black Lives Matter protesters pulled it down and threw it into the harbour

The incident has served to shine a light on the benefits Bristol and other British cities reaped from the Atlantic slave trade. Grand houses and public buildings in London, Liverpool, Glasgow and beyond were also funded by the profits made from ferrying enslaved Africans across the ocean. But because the horrors of that trade happened elsewhere, the role it played in building modern Britain is not something we tend to discuss.

Now a team at University College London is trying to change that. The Legacies of British Slave-Ownership project is mapping every British address linked to a slave-owner. In all, its database contains 5,229 addresses, linked to 5,586 individuals (some addresses are linked to more than one slave owner; some slave owners had more than one home). 

The map is not exact. Streets have often been renumbered; for some individuals, only a city is known, not necessarily an address; and at time of writing, only around 60% of known addresses (3,294 out of 5,229) have been added to the map. But by showing how many addresses it has recorded in each area, it gives some sense of which bits of the UK benefited most from the slave trade; the blue pins, meanwhile, reflect individual addresses, which you can click for more details.

The map shows, for example, that although it’s Glasgow that’s been noisily grappling with this history of late, there were probably actually more slave owners in neighbouring Edinburgh, the centre of Scottish political and financial power.

Liverpool, as an Atlantic port, benefited far more from the trade than any other northern English city.

But the numbers were higher in Bristol and Bath; and much, much higher in and around London.

 

Other major UK cities – Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle – barely appear. Which is not to say they didn’t also benefit from the Triangular Trade (with its iron and weaponry industries, Professor David Dabydeen of Warwick University said in 2007, “Birmingham armed the slave trade”) – merely that they benefited in a less direct way.

The LBS map, researcher Rachel Lang explained via email, is “a never-ending task – we’re always adding new people to the database and finding out more about them”. Nonetheless, “The map shows broadly what we expected to find... We haven’t focused on specific areas of Britain so I think the addresses we’ve mapped so far are broadly representative.” 

The large number in London, she says, reflect its importance as a financial centre. Where more specific addresses are available, “you can see patterns that reflect the broader social geography”. The high numbers of slave-owners in Bloomsbury, for example, reflects merchants’ desire for property convenient to the City of London in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when the district was being developed. Meanwhile, “there are widows and spinsters with slave property living in suburbs and outlying villages such as Chelsea and Hampstead. Country villas surround London.” 


“What we perhaps didn’t expect to see was that no areas are entirely without slave owners,” Lang adds. “They are everywhere from the Orkney Islands to Penzance. It also revealed clusters in unexpected places – around Inverness and Cromarty, for example, and the Isle of Wight.” No area of Britain was entirely free of links to the slave trade.

 You can explore the map here.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

All images courtesy of LBS/UCL